02/26/2014 04:09 EST | Updated 04/28/2014 05:59 EDT

Creator of 'Thank an Indian' shirts hits business snag

Things were looking up for Jeff Menard, creator of the "Got Land? Thank an Indian" clothing line. Now hard times are making the Winnipeg man take a hard look at his business plan. 

In January, demand for Menard's shirts increased dramatically after Tennelle Starr, a Grade 8 student from Star Blanket First Nation in Saskatchewan, was told by school officials not wear her "Got Land? Thank an Indian" hoodie to school because it was offensive.

Starr’s story was picked up by media outlets, including CBC News, and orders flooded in. Menard estimates sales at 4,500 units so far. 

“That’s the thing about controversy — there’s good and bad," he said. "I’ll take them both, but that’s what you need, is a balance."

Menard recently broke up with his common-law partner, which left him homeless. When he is not couch-surfing, his fallback is his 2007 Nissan Maxima SE.

Menard said Starr’s family sent him money for a room at the Clarion Hotel in Winnipeg. Others have responded to his Facebook status, wiring money.

“My car is the only thing I’ve earned in my life … my car is my prized possession, “ said Menard, a former Canada Post mail carrier.

“I’ve slept in my car at least three times in the past 10 days …. It sucks, actually. I am so appreciative of a bed.”

Cash flow has been another problem. Menard has been giving away some of his gear for free and giving people items on credit for later payment. “It’s been hard collecting the cash,” he says.

“It all just led to another thing, and then I was just strapped [for] cash. I don’t come from where rich kids do. I couldn’t call Mom or Dad for money.”

Things went from bad to worse. Menard said on Feb. 19, he went to Stony Mountain Institution, a medium-security jail in Manitoba, to “drop off T-shirts for the boys."

He said he was already through the gates when he suddenly remembered that a friend had left a gram of marijuana in his car, so he alerted the guards.

“Once those gates closed, I remembered what was in the trunk," he said. "I don’t even smoke the stuff. I handed it over.”

Menard now faces two charges: possession of controlled drugs and substances, and possession of the proceeds of crime. His court date is April 14 in Stonewall, Man.

To alleviate his situation and make business easier to handle, Menard wants to sell a 49 per cent share of his "Got Land? Thank an Indian" line to one or more potential buyers by Friday, March 28.

“Show me the money, and I’ll be your business partner," said Menard.

"I need the professionals to take over, and this ‘Indian’ needs a vacation."

He wants to “go out west," he says, to visit his elder for spiritual guidance and get traditional medicines for healing purposes.

Despite his challenges, however, Menard said he is looking forward.

“I’d like to say miigwetch to all the people who’ve helped me so far in all my 37 years. And for the next 37 years, it's going to be a good life,” said Menard, who also plans to run for chief or councillor of Pine Creek First Nation.